Last week we explored how to begin to reject the diet mentality.  This week we dive into principle two of Intuitive Eating.  We are born with natural cues that tell us when we are hungry and when we are full or satisfied.  Over time, we are exposed to diet culture myths and we lose touch with these signals.  Even worse, we learn to ignore these cues and let diet rules tell us when to eat, how much to eat, and when we are full, in essence causing us to lose trust in our own bodies.  Intuitive Eating, principle 2, is to Honor Your Hunger: 

Keep your body biologically fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates.  Otherwise, you can trigger a primal drive to overeat.  Once you reach the moment of excessive hunger, all intentions of moderate, conscious eating are fleeting and irrelevant.  Learning to honor the first biological signal of hunger sets this stage for rebuilding trust with yourself and food.  

If you need air you breathe, so it stands to reason that if you need food you should eat.  It makes no sense to ignore hunger signals because your macros or calories will be thrown off or because you were told by somebody or some book that you can’t eat at that time of day.  Simply put, if you are hungry, just eat.  Dieters tend to view hunger as a bad thing but it is actually a great thing.  It means your body is working the way it is supposed to!  Here is a little science behind hunger.  

Hormones and Hunger

Ghrelin is our main hunger hormone. Ghrelin receptors are located in the hypothalamus – an area of the brain responsible for appetite controls. The more you ignore hunger the more ghrelin is produced.  So, the more you restrict, the more your body fights back basically. This, in essence, is why diets fail.  When you eat, ghrelin is suppressed, but if you are a chronic dieter ghrelin may stay elevated due to you being in an energy deficit. Studies have shown that ghrelin levels in someone who has been dieting can be elevated for up to a year!!  Hence, rebound weight gain after a diet people!  When you eat, ghrelin levels go down and leptin, our fullness hormone, goes up. Simple right?  Can’t fight biology.  If you continue to not eat enough your body makes more and more ghrelin and you keep feeling hungry and the cycle continues.

A side note on Carbohydrates:  one of the biggest controversies in the nutrition world.  Are they good or bad?  Y’all know how I feel about them and why I think they are so necessary, especially for active people, but did you know that our bodies are hard wired to crave carbs?  

You see, we have a little neurotransmitter called Neuropeptide Y (NPY) that actually increases your appetite for carbs. It is stimulated by our friend ghrelin and drives up cravings for carbs. The more you try to ignore it the more you will end up bingeing on ALL THE CARBS.  And we all know when we are hangry like this, we don’t make the wisest choices for our bodies and minds.  In essence…Eat. The. Carbs.

All of that being said, you might be asking, what do I do if I have been dieting for so long I have no idea when I am actually hungry.  Below are some activities you can do to begin to work through learning how to honor your hunger. 

The Hunger-Body-Mind Connection

When your body is hungry there are many ways that it will let you know that you need to eat.  Mood and energy levels change and even increased thoughts around food can occur.  The longer you wait the more intense hunger becomes.  If you have dieted for most of your life, listening to these body cues will be a challenge at first but the more you listen the more it becomes habit. 

Next time you are hungry make a list of what you feel.  Some examples of this are stomach growling, gnawing in your throat, headaches, cloudy thinking, bad mood or irritable, low energy, or lethargy.  Make a list of these things for a day and practice tuning into those things each and every meal so you can get used to knowing when you are hungry.  

The Hunger Game

The Hunger game activity, developed by Precision Nutrition, will walk you through learning how to notice the physical cues we explored in our first activity.  You will need this PDF to work through this activity:  HungerGame.

After you have done this for several days answer the following questions:

  1. What trends do you notice with your hunger ratings?
  2. At which level does the sensation of hunger feel just right for you?
  3. What pattern of eating, in regard to timing, works best for you?  For instance, do you feel better eating every 4-5 hours or every 2-3 hours?
  4. If you ate lighter or smaller meals, how did that effect the frequency of your hunger?  Do you get hungry sooner rather than if you ate bigger meals spaced out more?

I Can’t Be Hungry Yet!

Have you ever eaten breakfast and then felt hungry an hour later?  We all have.  It can be frustrating and confusing for sure and most of the time we would say “I can’t be hungry, I just ate”.  In this scenario we might just tough it out till lunch and starve throughout the morning since we just ate right?  Consider this, however:

  • You may have had a harder workout the day before. 
  • You may have eaten very little the day before. 
  • Your breakfast may have not been satisfying enough or filling enough and may have just been more of a snack. 
  • You are having just a hungrier day.
  • You had an early morning workout, so you didn’t eat much for breakfast as your hunger was naturally lower when you had breakfast.
  • You are on your period or about to be.

The point here is that you cannot just say “I can’t be hungry” because many factors can be in play.  Honoring your hunger can be confusing but it is the same thing as using the restroom when you feel the sensation to go pee.  It is biological and the more you respond to that cue by feeding yourself the more trust you create between yourself and your body!

Next time you get hungry at a time when you don’t think you should be hungry, think about these other variables and write down how you are feeling.  Do you need to eat to take care of yourself?  Are you avoiding eating because you just ate?  If so, take note of what you ate before you got hungry.  Was it a small meal that doesn’t sustain you?  Should you add to that meal next time?  You get the point.  

You will find that it is very freeing to actually satisfy your hunger and even more freeing when you learn to recognize your fullness.  For now focus on learning to recognize and honor your hunger.  I would love to hear how this goes for you throughout the week so be sure and reach out on my Instagram or Facebook.  Stay tuned for next week when we will address principle 3:  Make Peach With Food.  Happy eating y’all and be sure to add yourself to my mailing list for all things Eat the Banana!